Personal Agents for Privacy Protection

Research areas

Temporary Supervisor

Dr Roger Clarke


Enormous scope exists for people's data to be appropriated by service-providers, at considerable cost to people's privacy. A range of techniques exist, whereby people who are concerned about such things can protect themselves. Some involve obscuration of data, whereas others create a new identity and/or a new channel for every session, and yet others merge multiple identities together. Tools of this nature are often referred to as PETs (Privacy-Enhancing Technologies). Since PCs emerged in the period 1977-1984, consumers have used software on their own devices, and stored their data there as well. Now services are being offered 'in the cloud', to replace the applications and software on people's own devices (Gmail, Flickr, Google Docs and Zoho, Salesforce, Dropbox, iTunes, etc.). This creates new scope for service-providers and their 'strategic partners', and law enforcement agencies, to take advantage of people's data. Personal agents need to be devised to address these challenges.


Thesis or Project work in this area could take various forms. For example:

  • relevant principles could be extracted from the existing bodies of theory about software agents
  • existing agent services could be investigated
  • existing services of a privacy-invasive nature (e.g. Facebook, Gmail, Chrome, iTunes, Android, Amazon Silk) could be examined to see what scope exists for agents to be used to protect users' privacy
  • specifications for new or improved agents could be written
  • prototypes could be developed, deployed, tested and experimented with

Background Literature

Clarke R. (2001) 'Introducing PITs and PETs: Technologies Affecting Privacy' Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 7, 9 (March 2001) 181-183, 188, at Clarke R. (2011) 'The Cloudy Future of Consumer Computing' Proc. 24th Bled eConference, June 2011, at Clarke R. (2014a) 'How to Promote PET Usage' University of Ottawa, 10 May 2014, at Clarke R. (2014b) 'Key Factors in the Limited Adoption of End-User PETs' University of Ottawa, May 8-10, 2014 , at PETWorkshops, annually since 2000: Award-winning papers: [There was a surge in the 'software agents and privacy' literature back in about 2000. It's high time that the area was re-visited, and the progress made in the last decade was applied to the problem.]

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